People v. Miller

Decision Date28 June 2013
Docket NumberDocket No. 1–11–0879.
Citation373 Ill.Dec. 429,993 N.E.2d 988,2013 IL App (1st) 110879
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Rodney MILLER, Defendant–Appellant.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois


Michael J. Pelletier, Alan D. Goldberg, and Kathleen Hill, all of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

Anita M. Alvarez, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Mary P. Needham, and Brooke N. Schneider, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.


Justice GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

[373 Ill.Dec. 431]¶ 1 Following a bench trial, defendant Rodney Miller was convicted and sentenced to 19 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for aggravated possession of a stolen motor vehicle that was inoperable and left parked on the streets of Chicago. At trial, the vehicle owner's husband testified that defendant operated a towing and repair service and that the husband sold the 14–year–old inoperable vehicle for $40 to one of defendant's employees for scrap.

¶ 2 On this direct appeal, defendant argues: (1) that the trial court erred when it relied on its incorrect recollection of witness testimony and when it excluded certain testimony as inadmissible hearsay; (2) that his trial counsel was ineffective for not attempting to suppress defendant's inculpatory statement made in the presence of a police officer prior to receiving Miranda warnings; and (3) that the trial court denied defendant his constitutional right to represent himself at sentencing. In response, the State claims: (1) that defendant failed to preserve these issues, which are forfeited, and failed to show that they rise to the level of plain error; (2) that defendant's trial counsel was not ineffective because his performance was reasonable and defendant has not shown that he suffered prejudice; and (3) that the trial court properly revoked defendant's right to proceed pro se when he engaged in obstructionist conduct prior to sentencing. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.


¶ 4 At trial, the State's evidence established that Sabrina Wright owned an Oldsmobile Cutlass, which was parked on the street in front of her house on 103rd Place in Chicago. The vehicle had been parked there for several weeks and was inoperable. On November 20, 2006, Wright observed that the vehicle was missing and called the police. Shortly thereafter, police officer DeYoung 1 of the South Holland police department observed an Oldsmobile Cutlass commit a traffic violation on 162nd Street in South Holland and attempted to stop the vehicle, which eluded him. The vehicle crossed over into oncoming traffic and collided with a pickup truck. DeYoung arrived at the crash scene and observed defendant exit the passenger side of the vehicle and fall down as he attempted to flee.

¶ 5 After the State rested, the defense called two witnesses: Wright's husband, Ronald Abrams; and defendant's employee, Everett Myrick. Both witnesses testified that, a few days before, Myrick had paid Abrams $40 to $50 in cash to purchase the vehicle for scrap. After the junk sale, Myrick later returned with defendant and they towed the vehicle to an automobile mechanic, who repaired the vehicle. After closing arguments, the trial court found defendant guilty and sentenced him to 19 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

¶ 6 I. Motion to Suppress

¶ 7 During a pretrial proceeding, defendant attempted to file several pro se motions, but the trial court advised that he must file motions through his counsel. The assistant public defender then reviewed defendant's motions and advised the trial court that she would not adopt several of defendant's motions; however, she would proceed on his motion to suppress an inculpatory statement. Defendant later hired a private attorney, Anderson J. Ward, and neither the assistant public defender nor Ward presented the claims in defendant's pro se motion to suppress.

¶ 8 II. Trial

¶ 9 Defendant requested a bench trial, which began on July 28, 2009. At trial, the State presented three witnesses: Sabrina Wright, the owner of the vehicle; Kevin Mulhall, who was injured in the automobile collision with defendant; and Detective DeYoung, the arresting officer. The defense called two witnesses: Wright's husband, Ronald Abrams; and Everett Myrick, who worked for defendant's towing company and who claimed he purchased the vehicle from Abrams for defendant.

¶ 10 A. Sabrina Wright's Testimony

¶ 11 Sabrina Wright testified that, in October 2004, she purchased a green 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which she registered in her name, and that she was the only person on the vehicle's title. On November 19, 2006, the vehicle was in disrepair and had not been running for several weeks; however, there was no physical damage to the vehicle. When asked specifically if there was any damage to the steering column when she owned it, Wright stated: “When I bought it from the lady, it was problems with it. So but as far as it seemed to be okay for me to ride in.” Wright observed the vehicle parked in front of her house on 103rd Place on the evening of November 19, 2006. As she left to take a bus to work the next morning at 7:30 a.m., she observed the vehicle missing. Soon afterward, she called the Chicago police department and provided a description of the vehicle and its license plate number. Some time after the police recovered the vehicle, Wright observed that it was “trashed” and “tore up.” She testified that she did not know defendant and that she never gave him, or anyone else, permission to operate the vehicle on November 20, 2006, and that she never gave anyone permission to sell the vehicle on her behalf.

¶ 12 On cross-examination, Wright admitted that she did not observe the vehicle being stolen and that she later learned that the vehicle had been sold. The State then objected to the question and answer on hearsay grounds, and the trial court sustained the objection. Specifically, she was asked and answered as follows:

“WARD: And, in fact, without commenting or saying anything about what people may have said to you, you came to learn later that the vehicle had actually been sold?


The trial court's ruling is at issue on this appeal.

¶ 13 B. Kevin Mulhall's Testimony

¶ 14 Kevin Mulhall testified that, on the morning of November 20, 2006, he was driving in South Holland, Illinois, with a friend in his friend's Dodge Ram truck. As he was driving south on State Street, he came to a stop at the intersection at 168th Street. He then pulled into the intersection to make a left-hand turn and collided with a green or blue Oldsmobile Cutlass that was traveling west in the eastbound lane of traffic. Upon impact, the driver-side door to the truck collapsed and Mulhall's head struck the driver-side window. After the collision, he observed a police vehicle arrive at the intersection and a black male who attempted to exit the wrecked Cutlass but fell down in the street. The police officer then approached the Cutlass with a drawn gun, and Mulhall ducked in his seat. He next observed a fire fighter approach the truck and ask if he was okay. Mulhall did not witness the suspect's arrest and was not asked to identify defendant in court.

¶ 15 C. Detective DeYoung's Testimony

¶ 16 Detective DeYoung testified that he is a police detective for the South Holland police department. At 8:15 a.m. on November 20, 2006, he was monitoring the traffic on 162nd Street while parked in the NB Financial Bank's parking lot in a marked police vehicle in full uniform. While there, he observed a vehicle “violate the median” by driving down the center median lane instead of waiting for backed-up traffic to move. DeYoung then drove out of the parking lot and followed the vehicle as it turned onto South Park Avenue. The vehicle turned west onto 168th Street, and DeYoung activated his emergency lights and siren to pull the vehicle over, but the driver sped up. DeYoung accelerated to 48 miles per hour, which was more than twice the posted speed limit of 20 miles per hour, but he still could not catch up to the vehicle. The vehicle did not slow down or stop as it approached the stop sign at the four-way intersection at State Street. The vehicle drove around a semi-tractor trailer truck that was stopped at the intersection and crossed into the wrong lane of traffic. It then collided with a Dodge Ram truck that was making a left-hand turn. DeYoung was two or three blocks behind the vehicle when he observed the collision. As he arrived at the intersection, the driver of the vehicle, who DeYoung identified in court as defendant, exited through the passenger side of the vehicle and attempted to flee, but he fell in the street. Defendant was yelling in pain due to his injuries. DeYoung approached defendant with his gun drawn and placed him in custody. DeYoung then asked defendant why he was fleeing and whether he was fleeing because the vehicle was stolen, and defendant answered yes.

¶ 17 DeYoung testified that the vehicle was an Oldsmobile Cutlass, and that the lock on the driver-side door was punched out and the steering column was peeled. At 8:17 a.m., he contacted “E–Com,” which ran the vehicle's identification number, and learned that the Cutlass had been reported stolen. He did not take photographs of the peeled steering column, and he did not indicate in his police report or in an Illinois Department of Transportation report that the steering column was peeled or that the lock on the driver-side door was punched out.

¶ 18 DeYoung testified that a dashboard camera in his police vehicle recorded the pursuit. The State recorded the videotape onto a DVD and included it in People's Exhibit No. 2. The DVD was played for the court, without audio, 2 and a copy of the DVD was provided to the appellate court.3 The video shows that DeYoung activated his sirens and...

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